When I opened up Facebook Sunday morning, every pastor I know was posting about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the day progressed, I heard of pastors redoing sermons, speaking directly to their congregations. So did I.
How do you know when to talk about tragic events at church? After all, every week brings a new tragedy. If we address them all, we run the risk of “tragic event fatigue.” Which events really merit addressing?
These five questions may be useful:
- Is everyone talking about this? Tragedies in Pakistan are horrible, but they may not impact many in your community. On the other hand, if you serve a church in the South, race is a cultural legacy you have to face. A violent incident in a nearby state that involved race had to be addressed, or I would have looked clueless.
- Is a gospel issue involved? The national press tends to lump the alt-right movement in with the Evangelical political movement. Churches like the one I serve are seen as evangelical. So I need to help our people understand what it means to follow Jesus- and what it doesn’t mean. In this case, Jesus does not condone racism.
- Is God opening a door through this event for me to challenge people? In the case of Charlottesville, I saw a chance to ask people to: 1. Pray corporately for our nation; 2. Learn again the hard work of praying for our enemies. I invited people to pray for the driver of the car that crashed into the crowd, James Alex Fields; 3. Remember our church is agent for change in our community. We bring change when we love one another; and, 4. Show sensitivity to others from different racial backgrounds in our church.
- If a person far from God is present in worship, is he or she expecting someone to address or acknowledge what has happened? If the answer to this “yes,” you have to address it. You may not need to change your sermon. You might deal with it in a prayer. You might change up one point in the message. You might modify your response opportunity.
- Is this celebrity news? If the answer is “yes,” be careful. I remember the Sunday after Princess Diana died. Everyone was talking about it. There wasn’t really a gospel issue (except whether or not she was a child of God, but that’s not for me to say). I couldn’t really see any discipleship challenge to put before people, however. Would a lost person want me to address it? Doubtful. They probably didn’t come to church to catch the latest news about the Princess (although I know some church members who missed church that morning to watch the news). The bottom line: I didn’t address it. Celebrity news should not control the Sunday agenda. If I served in England, however, my response would have been different.
There are more good questions, but these five are a start. Remember the most important thing is to pray for God’s guidance. If you don’t feel a peace about addressing it, don’t.